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***Written by Orlando Soria | Photography by Zeke Ruelas

You guys! At long last, my parents’ kitchen is ready to share! You can see more pics of it over on my blog, but I thought it might be fun to use this very personal project as a way of talking a bit about the back and forth that happens between designers and clients. Any designer will tell you, the final project you often see isn’t always exactly what they envisioned at the onset. Which is actually a good thing if you ask me. A home should be a reflection of the people that live in it. It’s a way for them to express themselves, to tell the world who they are and what is important to them.

I thought it would be fun to share some juicy goss here on what I might have done differently if my parents’ freshly renovated space were my kitchen. As I’ve chatted about before, working with family is extremely rewarding. I’ve been able to help my parents get a large, airy dream kitchen they’ve been wanting forever. Like literally my whole life. However, as with any client, there’s compromise. I think my parents’ kitchen came out perfectly for them, but if it were my own home I might have done things a bit differently.

The design process actually went very smoothly. Mostly because my super frugal parents’ mentally processed that they were going to have to spend a lot of money on their kitchen and mostly gave me the freedom to do whatever I wanted because they knew I had to photograph it and make it look great. I think honestly that trying to calm yourself down about the financial aspect of a renovation is one of the best ways to keep the stress level in check. That’s easier said than done, but it’s important to keep in mind that if you are in the position to be renovating or improving your home, it’s likely that you have more than you need and everything else is just icing.

I don’t think we really argued about anything during the process. We did disagree on things, but I tried to really take their preferences into mind and only pushed for things I felt adamant about. After all, it’s their house and it was their money. One thing I find most interesting about being a fully grown human man is how the relationships that develop in families during childhood kinda stay the same forever. Like when I come home, I revert to the same dynamic with my parents and siblings that I had my whole life. I’m the youngest of three, so no one ever took me seriously or thought I could do anything. So my go-to reaction when I don’t get my way is to be really emphatic about what I want and then sulk if I don’t get it. It’s a super mature way to act and I’m super proud of it.

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Before we get to the juicy goss about all the things we fought about, a few things. Firstly, a lot of you know this project took FOREVER and cost a lot more than expected. The construction budget ended up being about $150,000 and that doesn’t include the appliances, finishes, fixtures, and furnishings (which I’m estimating would add another $50-$60K if not more). I know it’s kind of gross I’m just throwing these numbers out there but I hate it when I see posts about this kind of thing and people act like it’s cheap and everyone can do it. The type of construction that this project required is expensive and my parents live in an expensive part of the country, so basically nothing was affordable. I’m not saying that to be discouraging. I’m mostly saying it because one of the main complaints I hear from designers is that they constantly get clients who have completely unrealistic expectations for what can be done with how much money. I’M HERE TO SQUASH THOSE MISCONCEPTIONS AND RUIN YOUR DREAMS. (Sorry).

The intro post I wrote here was over a year ago (check it out to see how crazy and different it was before). At the time, we were hoping it would be ready by Christmas 2017. In actuality, it took until May 2018. Which left my parents with no kitchen from August 2017 – May 2018. You can read more about all this drama over on my blog.

A caveat to this whole post is that it’s supposed to be a fun discussion about difference in taste between family members. I love my parents’ kitchen and think it looks AMAZING and is perfect for them and their lifestyle. However, I think it’s fun to hear about the dynamic between client and designer, especially if the designer is a family member. So for me, this discussion is more about talking over the complexity of decision making that goes into a project like this, less about talking negatively about the decisions we actually made. WE LOVE EVERY SINGLE THING IN THE KITCHEN, GOT IT?

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Range | Hood | Backsplash Tile (in Crate Lake) | Long Bar Pull Hardware

A quick note about the range. Basically, this whole project started when Bertazzoni approached me about a collaboration. So I knew from the get-go we were going to use their appliances. I’d been itching to renovate my parents’ tiny kitchen since they moved in 2012 so this was a huge blessing. I also knew from the get-go that I wanted to use this gorgeous Heritage Range (it’s the same one Emily used in the Portland kitchen). So the design of the room was based on the range as the centerpiece. Anyway, like I said earlier, you can read more about the specifics of materials and why I chose them on my blog. Now, onto the goss!

5 Things I Would Have Done Differently If This Were My Kitchen…

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Fridge (with Master Series Handles) | Cabinet Color | T Pull Hardware | Galley Pull Hardware

1. I would have addressed the awkward space above the cabinets.

I think this is an issue that a lot of designers run into. Basically, what do you do above the cabinets when the ceiling is an irregular shape or is very high? And I don’t claim to have the perfect answer to it. But I have a few ideas. Basically, any room that isn’t a rectangle provides a challenge for figuring out cabinets. There were two areas where we went back and forth on cabinetry and what to do where it met the ceiling. One was over the main set of uppers to the left of the sink, and the other was above the fridge.

Not surprisingly, I had Zeke shy away from these areas when we shot the room so I had to shoot some quick snaps on my phone to show you what I’m talking about:

Cabinet Detail Casa Soria 2

The space above the upper cabinets doesn’t bother me as much. It’s large enough that it can be accessorized (I got all these beautiful ceramics from Montes Doggett at AmericasMart on a recent buying trip). This space looks more intentional and I like how it meets the corner of the room to create a triangle. More aesthetically pleasing than other floating cabinets I’ve seen. One thing to note is that if you’re doing a kitchen and have uppers like this, you have to make sure (with constant reminders) that the contractor knows you want the top to be flat/filled in. Otherwise, the typical way of finishing a cabinet like this is to use a border around the top that creates a lip. This means anything you display up there would fall behind the lip, which can range from 3″ – 6.” Everyone thought I was crazy for bringing this up over and over and again but it makes a huge difference in being able to see what’s on display up there.

Cabinet Detail Casa Soria

This was the space that bugged me the most. I wanted this cabinet to go all the way to the ceiling or drywall to the top of the cabinet. I fought the contractor and my parents pretty hard on this one but ultimately they used the sublime power of passive aggression to leave it open. I just kept asking them to do it and they just kept not doing it. The reason I don’t like it is that all it does is leave a place for a dark shadow to live. There’s no room up there to put anything, and if you did put something up there, it would look busy and crowded. It’s a useless space that’s now basically just a nice resting place for dust bunnies. If the cabinet went all the way to the ceiling, the light color would bounce light back into the room. Instead, because there’s a dark, cavernous space there, it creates a BLACK HOLE OF NOTHINGNESS above the fridge.

Dining Room Angle Casa Soria

The reason I’m so obsessed with the spaces above the cabinets is that the way you address them makes a huge difference in how custom and personalized the kitchen looks. A cabinet that just looks like a box you stuck onto the wall doesn’t relate as well to the architecture of the space, it’s generic. The cabinets in my parents’ kitchen were custom made for it and were more than $30,000. But because they look like they might have been purchased ready-made and could be plopped into any kitchen, we missed out on an opportunity to give this kitchen a more custom, high-end look.

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Dishwasher  (with Master Series Handles) | Countertop | Floor Tile (Rustico 6×12 in Clam) | Vase 

2. I would have integrated the appliances.

I love the look of this Bertazzoni fridge. But right after we ordered all the appliances, Bertazzoni came out with panel-ready refrigerators and dishwashers. Ormomdo likes the look of the stainless steel accents in the kitchen. She likes that the appliances have a presence and are beautifully designed. But I love an integrated appliance, so I probably would have done these with panels if it were my kitchen.

A downside to a panel-ready refrigerator is that they tend to have less interior space than the French door style Ormomdo and Orlandad got. So, in my opinion, this fridge was still the best choice for them. Though part of me is already itching to update it with one of the gorgeous new panel-ready ones. I guess I love that the panel-ready ones feel kind of secret. Like those bookcases that are actually doors into a secret room. YOU THOUGHT THIS WAS JUST A CUPBOARD BUT JK IT’S TOTALLY A REFRIGERATOR.

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Roman Shades (Fabric: Dwell Studio Romaria in Aquatint) | Wall Color | Island Color | Brass Pendants | Globe Pendant | Stools | Tea Kettle

3. I would have used a different hardware for the cabinets under the island bar.

The contractor used a cabinet company (who I won’t name as I DO NOT recommend them because the cabinets took FOREVER and showed up wrong multiple times) who sent a kitchen designer to measure and figure out cabinetry. This was great because I didn’t have to worry about precise measurements, but was annoying because this designer wanted input. Literally too many cooks in the kitchen! The contractor and the designer pressured us to do push-to-open cabinets under the island. You know the type? That you push in then they pop open? My idea here was to do a tapered/angled edge at the top that acted as a pull. The reason being that I’ve seen a lot of these push latch mechanisms fail after repeated use and I was picturing these not having a long life.

However, the most annoying thing about these push latch cabinets is something that I didn’t anticipate (because I’ve never designed an island with outfacing storage) but should have. When you sit in a barstool your feet kick around. And these cabinets are constantly getting kicked (which is why I painted them a dark color). So these cabinets are constantly popping open. They’re always half open, half closed due to them getting kicked so whenever I’m sitting in front of one I’m constantly pushing them back in. LET THIS BE A LESSON TO ALL OF US NOT TO USE PUSH-TO-OPEN CABINET HARDWARE ON OUR UNDER ISLAND BAR CABINETS. Let this also be a lesson not to be oppressed by contractors and fancy kitchen designers, forced to do stuff your heart KNOWS is wrong! STAND UP FOR YOUR RIGHTS! RESIST!

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Dutch Oven | Tea Towels

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Entertainment Faucet Small Sink | Wine Fridge (similar) 

4. I would have made the prep sink a pull-down.

Originally when we were configuring the kitchen, I designed the sink the island as a bar sink where my parents’ filtered water would come out. However, in the course of designing the kitchen, Ormomdo wanted to move the filtered water to the main sink and give it its own faucet so they weren’t wasting filtered water doing dishes (a very Ormomdo concern tbh). We’d already ordered these beautiful Kallista faucets months before they were installed so we just installed the original fixtures we chose. But now when we’re all around cooking and cleaning, it would be very helpful to have the flexibility of a pull-down faucet that moves side to side (also makes sink clean up easier). I love the design of this faucet, but it’s more appropriate for a beverage sink, which is how it’s intended to be used.

In more important news, I tried my VERY BEST to convince my parents to go brass, because the brass version of this faucet is truly a thing of beauty. But they didn’t go for it. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the brass, it was more that they were worried it would show water residue more readily than the beautiful brushed nickel version they selected. I didn’t fight them too hard on this because part of me wanted to show a non-brass faucets suite. It feels like all of us bloggers/Instagrammers (myself included) have been doing ONLY BRASS for so long so I kind of wanted to show another finish. That being said, look at how gorgeous the brass version of this faucets is:

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5. I would have added more upper cabinets.

The second Ormomdo saw the beautiful Bertazzoni hood, she fell in love with it. And I love it, too. Along with the range, it’s the centerpiece of the room. In fact, I kept the design of the kitchen simple in order to let the ornate details on that range truly sing. However, one of my main objectives with this kitchen was to increase the storage (which is also why we did a connected peninsula and not an island with less storage). So while I LOVE the beautiful hood, I might have preferred to add cabinetry with an integrated hood if this were my kitchen. Bertazzoni has a big selection of those, so that was definitely an option here. Ormomdo’s argument against it was that the exhaust systems tend to take up much of the interior space of the cabinets so they’re not super useful. Also, the cabinet height would have to be raised to be an appropriate height above the range, so there’s a loss of storage space there too. I think I just like the idea of having the room be more symmetrical, though I like the asymmetry as well.

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It’s really hard to believe how different the kitchen is now that it was when my parents moved in. The whole room feels like a totally different space. Before, activity was kind of segmented around the house. There wasn’t really a central space for everyone to hang out in, just a bunch of giant stupid living rooms to sit in alone and cry about the past. But now the kitchen and family room are a much more functional, dynamic place to be in. There’s literally no need to cry anymore!

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Large Sink | Pull-down Faucet | Soap Pump | Filtered Water Faucet 

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Cutting Boards (similar) | Cheese Board (similar) Sea Glass Tumblers

My parents are very into their new kitchen. Just look at them there happily chopping while I pretend to stir a very delicious sauce we’ll all eat as a happy family around the dinner table (or casually laughing at the peninsula KICKING OUR FEET into the push-to-open cabinets). And even though some decisions aren’t ones I would have made for myself, I love the way it turned out, too.

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? Does that cabinet gap drive you as nuts as it does me or is it totally fine? Anyone have any solutions to those annoying pop-open cabinets once installed? WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. And don’t forget to head to my blog (HAVE I MENTIONED THAT ENOUGH???) to see all the reveal photos and read more about the design process, the whys, whats and hows of the Casa Soria kitchen.

Don’t Miss a Casa Soria Reveal: 

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